Irish faith in EU all about democracy, not money

This week, Irish farming and agri-food bask in the post-ploughing afterglow.

The week of the ploughing is the one time of the year when the country’s media turns its face fully to farming and its attention is fixed on our rural hinterland and the ‘country’ people who are still the backbone of the State and the engine behind our food production sector that is — and for some of us, always will be — Ireland’s pride and joy.

ICMSA is very proud of its relationship with the Irish Examiner and we are particularly pleased to be involved and co-sponsor of what is now a landmark survey: The Irish Examiner-ICMSA Farming Poll, the fourth of which was published last week to coincide with the National Ploughing Championships.

Brexit anxiety

One finding emerged clearly from last week’s poll and it is still the factor that casts most gloom on the annual post-ploughing ‘feel-good’ factor — that is the post- Brexit ‘feel-anxious’ factor.

The Irish Examiner-ICMSA survey also showed a reassuringly strong degree of support for the EU and one that goes way beyond the area of direct payments.

Irish farmers may have well-founded misgivings about the speed and agility with which the EU responds to specific problems, but we also know that our only chance of addressing the complete takeover of the food supply chain by overly dominant corporations lies in this kind of supra-national organisation.

The only thing preventing the complete abuse of the EU’s primary agri-food producers by, for instance, gigantic international retailers, is the EU itself.

And, not infrequently, the EU does get things right — albeit belatedly.

For instance, its allocation of €11m to Ireland as our allocation of the Dairy Crisis Fund was created specifically to address the EU-wide collapse in farmer milk price that occurred over the last 18 months and which is only now showing signs of reversing. ICMSA wants the Government to match the EU funding and then disperse it by way of a flat, per-farmer payment of €1,200.

On its own, it will not even come close to addressing the kind of income wipeout suffered by the State’s milk suppliers over that period, but it will help pay some of the bills outstanding and would at least signal that the Government and EU understood the kind of disaster that had afflicted a specific sector of faring — dairying — and were going to aid it.

I have twice called upon Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to ensure that the monies allocated to Ireland by the EU to address the dairy income crisis are spent on the specified purpose — helping dairy farmers — and not frittered away as collateral on low-interest loans or distributed throughout all sectors of farming, regardless of their present situations.

Complacent debate

ICMSA cannot understand the kind of unwarranted complacency evident in some contributions to the debate around how the Government should spend the EU €11m which ICMSA expects the Government to match.

The starting point for any debate about how we should allocate the Dairy Crisis Fund must be the reality that milk suppliers — even after the latest market rally — are receiving an average of three cents per litre less than the milk costs to produce.

Farmer-suppliers are still without any income from their dairying operations. That’s intolerable, and it becomes even more impossible to understand why funds that the EU specifically allocated to Ireland to offset that income collapse are now in danger of being effectively hijacked to provide collateral for low-interest loans from the banks — a bank subsidy, in other words — or could be frittered away by being spread across every sector instead of being allocated to the very sector that the EU intended — the dairy sector.

ICMSA is proposing that this funding is used to provide dairy farmers with a flat direct payment of €1,200. This is permissible under the regulations and would provide a level of support to dairy farmers during an extremely difficult period.

The idea that money earmarked for dairy farmers could be diverted straight into the banks is just astonishing and unacceptable.

If the Government wants to involve the banks in helping dairy farmers, ICMSA suggests they try convincing them to charge competitive rates.


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